There is a Zen saying, “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”
What is the spiritual value of chopping wood and carrying water?
When we rely on our own will, our ability to create and do something with our hands, we tap into the fundamental energies available to us by living here on earth. These primary energies support us in many ways; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is essential, in fact, to connect with these energies to gain full enlightenment. Although we have made incredible industrial and technological advancements as humans, our over-dependence on the multitude of modern conveniences has restricted our ability to receive the gifts of these elemental forces.
Our spiritual ascension into higher realms of consciousness is deeply linked to how we live on earth. We can spend a majority of our time meditating, reading spiritual books, and attending church, but this is only a fraction of our work. As whole beings, we are most in alignment when we actively bring love and consciousness to all areas of our lives. Living mindfully into the basic and mundane aspects of life is an important part of our awakening.
When we look at the greater spiritual picture, right now many of us are experiencing challenges in the areas represented by our lowest chakras – our primal connections to living on earth in human form. Money, our need and ability to work, our connection to earth and our “survival” are areas of focus in this phase of our evolutionary process. We are “cleaning house” so to speak and this, more often than not, can be uncomfortably messy and hard to do.
As the days grow shorter, we may feel rushed to get things done by sundown. The summer days are long and slow and offer plenty of time to do our daily duties in addition to enjoying sunshiny outings here and there. Fall, however, can be a confusing push and pull of our energies. Namely, Nature – including our own inner rhythm – begins to call us inward and to slow down while the rest of our activities ask us to continue at a heightened pace, or even require more from us, like going back to school. Perhaps Nature’s beckoning us to fall back into her rhythm.
It is responsible to honor our obligations, but it is imperative that we learn to listen to Nature’s call and ease up on the throttle if we are to feel connected to ourselves, Source, and – yes – Nature herself. Of course, we can always squeeze in time for ourselves, a daily prayer or brief meditation, or a short hike, but in so doing we will likely feel the intensity of that constant squeezing action (also known as a contraction), not to mention the impressions it leaves on us.
When we spend much of our energies hurrying and scurrying, squeezing and pushing, efforting and going, going, going, we often squeeze out some of the fundamental properties of living joyful, healthy lives. For example, how deeply does one breathe when contracting or pushing? Is it a deep, calming, rhythmic breath? (Not usually.)
How does one listen to Nature’s rhythm and harmonize with fall?
Sometimes we need “evidence” or “scientific proof” before we believe something to be “true” or “real.” Interestingly, as spirituality and science merge back to Oneness, we will likely find both scientific proof as well as its dissolution exist simultaneously. We may soon discover that the Divine is one vast paradox – both everything and nothing at all.
In the meantime, we are likely to find the fundamental “truths” of ancient mystic spirituality and the newly discovered “facts” of science becoming more like allies than adversaries. Notably, a recent study of our brain’s ability to multitask* seems to be befriending the concept of mindfulness. At this rate maybe science will “discover” the miracle of mindfulness sooner rather than later?
Simply stated, mindfulness is the ability to be aware and awake to the present moment. It is a central concept in Buddhism. Multitasking is the performance of multiple tasks at one time. It is a central way of living for most modern day humans. Or is it?
Can we be awake and aware to the present moment and multitask at the same time?
Sometimes we can get caught up in the day to day doings; we forget about the present moment and lose touch with simply being. Yet, in each moment, we have the opportunity to tap into our own essence and experience our being. This does not imply that we should sit in stillness or in meditation and do nothing else but “be” all the time. However, when was the last time you gave yourself permission to stop and do nothing at all? Or at least slow down and experience what it is you are doing.
Even meditation is initiated by a doing action and can feel burdensome or invoke feelings of guilt if we decide to play the shame game. And, yes, sometimes when we “make” ourselves do something “good” for us, even when we didn’t really feel like it, we experience the joy that comes with the follow through as well as the results of our task. How many times have you found yourself grateful for actually eating all of your vegetables, making your bed or any of those other “shoulds”? Why did you feel grateful; because the task was done or was “good for you”? Or did you enjoy the experience itself?
Unfortunately, there are no hard, fast rules in self care. Generally speaking, we can assume that if we do things that are “good” for us, we will be happier, healthier, and perhaps live longer. Yet, we have all heard stories of the 101 year old man who drank and smoked all his life and loved every minute of it. Fair or not, self care is only an option with no guarantees.
Regardless of the results, perhaps self care or doing things that are good for us can actually offer us something while we are doing it. In other words, the endeavor can be just as valuable as the end results if we allow ourselves to experience it fully… or shall I say, if we allow ourselves to experience our being while we are doing. By being present with our task, we can deeply connect with ourselves on both a human and spiritual level.
Simply bringing our awareness to ourselves and what we do in each moment is a basic, yet profound, way to indulge in self care and it doesn’t have to take the form of a sitting meditation. So whether you are cleaning your bathroom, running on the treadmill, or brushing your teeth, I invite you to try doing your task with your full attention and see what it’s like …just because.
Meditation can be a one time experience, an occasional indulgence or it can be cultivated into an on-going practice. Of course, the benefits of meditation become more clear and present when it is done more often. Imagine if meditation became an integral part of your life. What if you perceived it as essential to your health and well being as brushing your teeth, getting adequate sleep and eating well? Beginning a meditation practice can be a matter of following a few simple steps; attending to it on a daily basis requires dedication and discipline.
To begin a meditation practice:
Create a sacred space: Although you can meditate anywhere, and make that space sacred for the moment, it is nice to have a specific place where you can go to meditate regularly. If you develop your meditation practice in a dedicated space, you will find that the energy of the space will assist you with both its construct and peacefulness. Perhaps you create an altar with a candle, fresh flowers, or a few meaningful items. You can use a comfortable chair, or purchase a meditation pillow to sit on.
Establish a regular practice: Decide on a plan; maybe you begin by reserving just 10 - 20 minutes each day (preferably at the same time of day). If you want to establish a rhythm, it would be better to consistently have five minutes a day and extend the time as you can, rather than meditating one or two days a week for longer periods. Think about including meditation in your daily self-care routine. Yet, if starting a daily practice is too much for you right now and you simply want to bring it into your life more often, perhaps you attend a weekly group meditation. The group energy helps beginners go deeper into the meditative experience, gives you a sacred place to practice, and can fuel the desire to integrate it into your daily life.
Follow the four stages: In previous articles, I outlined the four stages of meditation – approach, technique, meditative awareness, and conscious conclusion. Use them to guide you into, through and gently out of your meditation.
Let go of attachment: Allow the experience of meditation to be as it is; know that each meditation will be unique. It is the practice of staying awake and aware that is the essence of meditation. Even having a “mystical experience” can be an obstacle because you might get caught up in desiring to repeat the incident while you miss the experience of the meditation you are in. A main task of meditation is “letting go” – of expectation, of what will be “accomplished” – since a grasping attitude keeps you from experiencing the flow of meditation.
Meditation allows us to practice the art of “being” – providing us with our own experience – which enables us to realize that we are not limited to our thoughts, feelings, or physical existence. This experience – the unfolding of our self-realization – is our spiritual enlightenment.
The end of the meditation is the forth and final stage. Sure you can jump up and run out the door, if necessary, but it is beneficial to bring your meditation to a close with the same reverence as you entered it. Allow yourself to complete your mediation with conscious conclusion.
In the conscious conclusion of your meditation, it is important to:
Rest: When you reach the state of being, or inner peace, if even for a moment, it can be an exquisite experience. It is considered the “peak experience” for that time of meditation. Whenever possible, it is nice to allow enough time in your practice to reach this state and simply rest for awhile in the experience of being. This will have a calming, clearing effect on your entire body and mind.
Return: The process of returning your full awareness to your body, mind and environment should be a gradual one. After experiencing meditative states of consciousness, “grounding” cannot be overemphasized in its importance. It is critical to fully return to your attentive state of consciousness to avoid accidents or injuries after the meditation.
Extend: You can utilize the benefits derived from your meditation practice and apply them to your daily life. Although you bring your full consciousness back to your body and mind as you return to your “real life” after your meditation, be sure to take a moment to consciously extend the peacefulness, clarity or other beneficial effects into your day.
The experience of the meditation itself, described as meditative awareness, is the third stage of meditation. Meditative awareness allows the continuation and deepening of witness consciousness – the ability to simply witness your experiences, thoughts or feelings, rather than engaging in them.
With meditative awareness, you can begin to experience:
Flow: Once the meditation process has been grounded through the use of technique you can become progressively interiorized, where attention gracefully flows to the point of focus. This is a relaxed allowing of your attention, as opposed to an efforting or focused concentration, and indicates the point at which true meditation occurs.
Awareness: Thoughts and feelings may still continue to arise at this point, but they are more subtle and you no longer become involved with them. You simply remain awake and aware, established in the witness consciousness.
Being: Meditation allows you to rest in the experience of being. As busy people always doing, we rarely take the time to experience the state of being. As you experience being, you discover your own pure nature, and may sense a true inner peace.
In this article we will explore the second stage of meditation – technique. Using a meditation technique gives your mind “something to do.” Although many people believe that meditation is about having “no thoughts,” it is the nature of the mind to be active and seek stimulation.
A meditation technique helps you stay in the moment, while strengthening your abilities to:
Focus: Utilizing one-pointed attention contributes to the calming of your mental field. A good focus point technique for beginners is paying attention to your breath. Become aware of the movement of your breath – notice the air entering your nostrils, sense it completely as it hits the back of your throat, feel your chest and abdomen expand, feel the air exit through your nostrils, and so on. Once you become aware of your breath, you can direct your inner gaze toward your third eye – the center point between your eyebrows – or your crown chakra at the top of the head. Choose only one point of focus for your inner gaze and practice using it for a period of time; this allows depth in your meditation practice to progress.
Witness: Meditation helps you develop a “witness consciousness” – the ability to be a conscious witness to all that is occurring. Thoughts will arise and you may experience emotional and physical feelings in your body. The task of meditation is to witness what is happening without attaching to it; simply noticing and letting it go.
Return: During the process of meditation, it is certain you will lose the ability to maintain your witness consciousness and soon become involved in your thoughts and feelings. When this happens, simply return your attention to your breath and/or inner gaze. Much of meditation is gently returning your awareness to the point of focus.
Since each meditation is different, you may find that some days it’s easier to maintain your focus than other days. As you develop a regular meditation practice, your ability to focus increases along with your witness consciousness; as these wane, however, you can always remember to return.